Ebucu makes a living from charcoal trade

Martin Ebucu defies the stigma against PWDs to sell charcoal in Soroti Town

What you need to know:

LIVELIHOOD. If you walk around markets and restaurants in Soroti Town, you will not fail to spot Martin Ebucu, 57, a well-known charcoal seller who has been in the business for more than 20 years, writes SIMON NAULELE.

Commonly seen on Soroti streets with his tricycle Martin Ebucu solely depends on selling charcoal for a living. Ebucu, is a resident of Agiret Village, Atiira Sub-county in Serere District.
At 11am, Ebucu is covered in dust and drenched in sweat as he pushes his tricycle which is loaded with bags of charcoal on the sultry morning. He has just covered 28km, the distance from his home to Soroti town. He branches off to the Soroti Public Gardens in Soroti town, to catch his breath and a cool breeze. It is here that we meet and we talk about his typical day and work.
He leaves home at 4am every day. When I ask him about his safety on the Serere-Soroti road, he exudes confidence as he replies.
“When drivers or fellow cyclists find me on a blind spot or crossing point, they slow down to allow me cross the road. Sometimes drivers with open and empty trucks give me lifts.”
He plies the route every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
He is not your typical fast paced vendor because he says when he was five years old, he was injected on the right side of the buttocks but it turned out disastrous for his body. He has since become crippled. However, this has not hindered him from earning a living.

His beginnings
Because Ebucu has been vending charcoal in Soroti Town for the last 21 years, while we are chatting, his phone rings off the hook and he excuses himself to answer. He later says the calls are from his customers, adding that “My customers are all people who need charcoal.”
“When I was 20 years old in 1970, I went to peel cassava at Mzee Omax Omeda’s home where I earned Shs3,000 per day. I used the money to buy three tins of soya bean that I roasted afterwards.”
“After selling soya bean, I made a profit of Shs6, 000,” he recalls.
Ebucu says when his profit multiplied, his business boomed and he bought two goats at Shs3,000 each and they multiplied to seven. He then exchanged them for a heifer.
“The heifer at first produced a bull and then a cow and they later multiplied to 17 animals,” he explains.
However, the Primary Three dropout of Adipala Primary School, says he had to sell the animals to enable his children go to school. He failed to continue with school because of the eight-kilometre distance. He continued selling roasted soya bean. It is then that he realised the need to do another income-generating activity.
He says one fateful day in 1988, he was selling soya under the tree by the roadside at Atiira Trading Centre. A certain White man (whose name he does not recall) who was going to Serere research station stopped by his stall and gave him Shs150,000 to expand his soya business.
“I had only made Shs20,000 and I badly needed a tricycle. The following day, I went to Soroti Town where I met a man who offered to take me to Jinja Town in his car to buy a cycle,” he says.
Ebucu bought his tricycle at Shs170, 000 and the Good Samaritan who offered him a lift paid for his transport fare back to Soroti.
“When I arrived in Soroti town, it took me one day to reach home since I did not know how to ride. I was falling throughout until I arrived home. The next day I woke up with body aches and bruises,” he recalls.
“I continued selling soya bean until I saved Shs10,000 that I used to buy my first bag of charcoal,” he says.
Ebucu says his life is different from the rest of his peers with disabilities.
“As my business grew, I then joined Agiret Village Bank, our village Sacco where I now save and borrow money from,” he said.
The third born out of eight children of Mary Acung and Alex Odele, says since he could not manage to realise his dream of either becoming a primary school teacher or mechanic, he wished his children better.
Ebucu says with the help of his tricycle, he has managed to educate all his children to a reasonable level.
He clothes, feeds and pays his children’s medical bills.
“My family is supportive. My children go with me to buy charcoal, and then we gather it at home whereafter I take it for sale. One bag at a time. I buy a bag at Shs12,000 and sell it between Shs18,000 and Shs20,000,” says Ebucu.

His wish
His prayer is that his children get jobs so that he can retire. Ebucu also plans to build a permanent house with corrugated iron sheets since his condition cannot allow him collect enough grass for thatch.

Away from charcoal
When he is not in Soroti Town, Ebucu trains his colleagues of Atiira Persons with Disability Group on financial discipline. He also mobilises them to take their children to school and embrace government projects rather than go to the streets and markets to beg.
“I tell them that they could be physically disabled but they have able brains, so they must do businesses to fight poverty in their households,” he explains.
Ebucu says they are planning to use the 2021 electioneering period to mobilise politicians to support them so that they can do their own businesses to support their families.
He also advises the PWDs not to indulge in reckless sex to avoid contracting HIV and also cautions the able-bodied persons against making PWDs pregnant then abandoning them.

His family
He married Esther Majeri Apeso on November 20, 1985. He met Apeso at Ariamet Trading Center where Apeso, then 20 years old, was selling ajono or malwa, a local brew, while he sold roasted soya bean. Whenever she bought something to eat, she also shared with him.
“One day, I asked if she could marry me, and she quickly asked me why. My response was “the way you serve me makes me feel loved and you would love me more if we lived together,” he recollects.
It took her three days to respond to his request.
“She asked me whether I had two cows to pay as dowry, but I told her I have five since my elder sister had just gotten married,” he said. Thus, he paid five cows, six goats and Shs50.
They now have six children.
“Alex Ebucu, 23, dropped out of Gulu University where he was studying Medicine and Anne Amulen, 20, is in a tertiary institute. Meanwhile Ketty Acung, 18, Lakeri Apeduna Joyce Arabo and Joseph Enangu all are Senior Six leavers,” Ebucu says.

Selina Atoyo, Soroti resident
“Government should come up with a project that helps people such as Ebucu to do business which is not demanding. He should be helped to do business like timber selling, and shopkeeping so that he does it while at home.”

Angella Apolot, Soroti resident

“Despite of his disability challenge, he’s a man whom I believe has a family and that’s why he’s struggling to fend for his family. His other challenge is falling along the way in case of bad road, and rain. Government and any well-wisher should come to his rescue.”

David Edatu, charcoal trader

“I came to know about Ebucu at the time I was still a fish trader in Omodoi, Asuret Sub-county in Soroti district and I was one of the persons who felt if there was a way, I could help him. The challenge he has is that when it rains, his business is affected yet the market is also not readily available, so he arrives to town he has to manoeuvre around for long and sometimes goes back without selling.”